Setbacks, in health, fitness and life in general, are a ‘when’, not an ‘if’.

The irony of writing an article for Dair Magazine on my ‘Performance Life’ whilst sat, leg elevated due to a calf muscle tear, is not lost on me. I’d spoken to several top coaches about my programme towards balanced health and fitness and was comfortably climbing back in the saddle.

Then I got invited to play football (for the first time in around 20 years) and agreed, despite cautionary advice from Olympic Coach Toni Minichiello and Rugby League legend Denis Betts. I assured them both I would just walk through it and take it easy. My current condition is testament to the fact that I did neither. Which puts a slightly different complexion on this article. I knew I’d have setbacks, just not this soon.

So what to do when setbacks hit?

I have no interest in what I can’t do, only what I can do.

Recently,  I had the pleasure of spending time with the goalkeeper Petr Cech. In his early twenties he suffered an horrendous, life threatening head injury (he’d already been through two broken shoulders) when playing for Chelsea. When discussing rehabilitation he said something to me that stuck: ‘I have no interest in what I can’t do, only what I can do’. Think about it for a minute. It’s genius in its simplicity.

It only requires two things; commitment and creativity.

Petr Cech

I have a torn calf muscle, so I can’t currently run, jump, squat or deadlift (every cloud has a silver lining). But there is nothing wrong with my left leg or the rest of my body. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.   It would be way too easy to focus on the problem, the things I can no longer do, but the only result I’ll get thinking like that is anxiety and a degree of misery. It’s now up to me, with a little help from my friends, to figure out what I can do. I need to get creative.

My go-to guy in these situations is the England Cricket Fast Bowling Coach, Kevin Shine. When I say ‘go-to’, I mean it. He’s so immersed in creative ways to continue to develop around setbacks I call him Sensei. As a fast bowler he knows all about self inflicted damage but I don’t think he’d ever stop pushing on unless he was chained down. His mantra is very similar to Petr’s, it’s this: “find a way”.

The trick is this: don’t treat impediments to progress as an insurmountable hurdle, work round them.

After the medical advice was dispensed with (I’m already frustrated from resting, ice and elevation less than 24 hours in) he turned immediately to what I could still do; one legged. Turns out there’s quite a lot. Where I lose out in some areas I’ll actually get the chance to work more on others. The trick is this: don’t treat impediments to progress as an insurmountable hurdle, work round them. It’s surprisingly invigorating finding new routes to improvement, even if those routes take you to a destination you weren’t originally planning.

Also, in case of injury always ensure you do absolutely everything you can to speed up the recovery process. Listen to the professionals but listen to your body too. Listen carefully and it will show you how far you can safely work with it.

And, it’s not just about physical health and fitness either. I’ll take a pot shot here: there’s a least one thing you ‘want’ to do but you’re holding back for some ‘reason’ (How often to we introduce excuses, thinly veiled as reasons, for not being the best we can be?). Here’s a suggestion: change the rules – after all you own them. Instead of dreaming of that thing, change your dream. I’m not talking wholesale rejection of everything you’ve ever wanted, I’m talking about coming at things from a different angle. Don’t know where to start with your first novel? Write a poem. Struggling with yourself in stressful situations? Give meditation a shot. Never have time to to take a course? Listen to a podcast. And sometimes, just sometimes give yourself a break.

The advice I’ll be following, like all the best advice, is remarkably straight forward. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but for me it’s proven a real eye opener. The mantra of, ‘what can I do?’ Is one that I’m working on applying on every aspect of my development. Particularly now when my number one goal is simply being able to walk normally again. I’m planning on doing a lot more than that as my leg heals.

Whatever setback has recently beset you, find a space where you can think clearly and ask yourself, “what can I do?”.  Because, one thing is guaranteed. Apply a little commitment and creativity and you’ll find a way to put the setback to one side, get back in the saddle and move forward.

Finally, if you wont listen to Petr Cech, Kevin Shine or me, take a slice of advice from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”.

Find Your Solution. Move forward. I’ve got your back.